U.S. President Barack Obama Remarks At University of Queensland

Today, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to students at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you so much!  (Applause.)  Thank you!  Thank you, everybody.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Hello, Brisbane!  It’s good to be back in Australia.  I love Australia — I really do.  The only problem with Australia is every time I come here I’ve got to sit in conference rooms and talk to politicians instead of go to the beach.  (Laughter.)

To Chancellor Story, Professor Høj, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and most of all, the students of the University of Queensland — it is great to be here at UQ.  I know that we are joined by students from universities across this city, and some high school students, as well.  And so I want to thank all of the young people especially for welcoming me here today.

On my last visit to this magnificent country three years ago, I had the privilege to meet some of the First Australians; we’re joined by some today.  So I want to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of this land and by paying my respects to your elders, past and present.

This university is recognized as one of the world’s great institutions of science and teaching.  Your research led to the vaccine that protects women and girls around the world from cervical cancer.  Your innovations have transformed how we treat disease and how we unlock new discoveries.  Your studies have warned the world about the urgent threat of climate change.  In fact, last year I even tweeted one of your studies to my 31 million followers on Twitter.  (Laughter.)  Just bragging a little bit.  (Applause.)  I don’t think that’s quite as much as Lady Gaga, but it’s pretty good.  (Laughter.)  That’s still not bad.

I thank Prime Minister Abbott and the people of Brisbane and Queensland for hosting us at the G-20 Summit.  This city, this part of Australia, is just stunning — “beautiful one day, and then perfect the next.”  (Laughter.)  That’s what I understand.  (Applause.)  We travel a lot around the world.  My staff was very excited for “Bris Vegas.”  (Laughter.)  When I arrived they advised I needed some XXXX.  (Laughter.)  You have some?  (Laughter.)

Part of the reason I have fond memories of Australia is I spent some time here as a boy when I was traveling between Hawaii and Indonesia, where I lived for several years.  And when I returned three years ago as President, I had the same feelings that I remembered as a child — the warmth of the people of Australia, the sense of humor.  I learned to speak a little “strine.”  (Laughter.)  I’m tempted to “give it a burl.”  That’s about as far as I can go actually.

But I do want to take this opportunity to express once again the gratitude of the American people for the extraordinary alliance with Australia.  I tell my friends and family and people that I meet that there is an incredible commonality between Australia and the United States.  And whether that’s because so many of us traveled here as immigrants — some voluntary and some not; whether it’s because of wide open spaces and the sense of a frontier culture — there’s a bond between our two countries.

And Australia really is everything that you would want in a friend and in an ally.  We’re cut from the same cloth — immigrants from an old world who built a new nation.  We’re inspired by the same ideals of equality and opportunity — the belief everybody deserves a fair go, a fair shot.  And we share that same spirit — that confidence and optimism — that the future is ours to make; that we don’t have to carry with us all the baggage from the past, that we can leave this world a better, safer, more just place for future generations.  And that’s what brings me here today — the future that we can build together, here in the Asia Pacific region.

Now, this week, I’ve traveled more than 15,000 miles — from America to China to Burma to Australia.  I have no idea what time it is right now.  (Laughter.)  I’m completely upside down.  But despite that distance, we know that our world is getting smaller.  One of Australia’s great writers spoke of this — a son of Brisbane and a graduate of this university, David Malouf.  And he said, “In that shrinking of distance that is characteristic of our contemporary world, even the Pacific, largest of oceans, has become a lake.”  Even the Pacific has become a lake.

And you see it here on this campus, where you welcome students from all across Asia and around the world, including a number of Americans.  You go on exchanges, and we’re proud to welcome so many of you to the United States.  You walk the streets of this city and you hear Chinese, Vietnamese, Bahasa Indonesia, Korean, Hindi.  And in many neighborhoods more than half the people you meet were born somewhere else.  This is a global city in a globalized world.

And I often tell young people in America that, even with today’s challenges, this is the best time in history to be alive.  Never in the history of humanity have people lived longer, are they more likely to be healthy, more likely to be enjoying basic security.  The world is actually much less violent today.  You wouldn’t know it from watching television that it once was.

And that’s true here in the Asia Pacific as well.  Countries once ravaged by war, like South Korea and Japan, are among the world’s most advanced economies.  From the Philippines to Indonesia, dictatorships have given way to genuine democracies.  In China and across the region, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted from poverty in the span of one generation, joining a global middle class.  Empowered by technology, you — the young people in particular of this region — are connecting and collaborating across borders and cultures like never before as you seek to build a new future.

So the opportunities today are limitless.  And I don’t watch a lot of Australian television, so — as you might imagine, because I’m really far away.  (Laughter.)  So I don’t know whether some of the same tendencies that we see in the United States — a focus on conflict and disasters and problem — dominate what’s fed to us visually every single day.  But when you look at the facts, opportunities are limitless for this generation.  You’re living in an extraordinary time.

But what is also true, is that alongside this dynamism, there are genuine dangers that can undermine progress.  And we can’t look at those problems through rose-tinted glasses.  North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs — that’s a problem.  Disputes over territory, remote islands and rocky shoals that threaten to spiral into confrontation.

The failure to uphold universal human rights, denying justice to citizens and denying countries their full potential.  Economic inequality and extreme poverty that are a recipe for instability.  And energy demands in growing cities that also hasten trends towards a changing climate.  Indeed, the same technologies that empower citizens like you also give oppressive regimes new tools to stifle dissent.